Loved by thousands, respected by all, the FireBlade was been revamped for 2002. But something was not quite right.
The Honda FireBlade went back to its roots in 2002. The only older model here (at our 2002 SupeBike of the year test around the Val de Vienne circuit) is the CBR600F and while both have evolved almost beyond recognition, it's the Blade that has rediscovered much of that 'wild stallion' sensation of the original. If this is Honda's idea of 'Total Control', I'd love to see one of their Friday afternoon designs based on the concept of 'Screw control, let's just make it stupidly quick.'
For all the marketing hype and new technology, we reckon that the 2002 FireBlade has become less rideable. On the road it's the fuel injection and stability that cause the gravest concern. At low revs in town the fuelling is snatchy and hunts below 3,000rpm. At higher speed it works better but still demands a delicate, yet confident, touch. Wheelies are hard work but landing them can be even worse. Every time we have tested this bike it terrifies at least one of us with a massive tankslapper. On the flip side this is a faster bike than ever and a track hides its worst faults. Despite posting only the sixth best lap time there was little in it and the limiting factors are easily addressed. The needless hero-blobs provide the tiresome soundtrack to a lap of the tight Val de Vienne circuit as they grid relentlessly through every apex. If you go in too hot you sit on the peg with no more lean available until you scrub off some speed. Only the CBR600 struggles more with ground clearance.
The standard suspension settings limit faith in the front tyre turning in, negating the advantage of the new rapid steering. The rear suspension can also feel under damped at times, possibly adding to the head shaking. Such misdemeanours are easily rectified, however. Whip the toolkit from the generous boot space and lob the hero blobs in the bin. Follow our set-up quite to get the suspension right for your weight. Our staff 2002 longtermer has four small tweaks to the suspension, a steering damper and no blobs. It feels like twice the bike without those limitations. In totally standard trim the Blade lags behind, and the two 600s ahead of it feel like more complete road and track bikes for riders of any ability. But like the CBR600FS, the Blade suffers most from Honda's built-in limits and, once relieved of them, gains ground on its rivals.
The rate of turn is very impressive and the compact proportions mean you will never struggle with it. The brakes would be too good were it not for the excellent feel. The power is there too. After years playing catch-up it's now almost equal to the R1 but doesn't quite feel it through the taller standard gearing.
Or then again, in the opinion of another test rider, “I think that the FireBlade (or CBR954RR) looks superb in its latest incarnation, with the build quality and attention to detail that'll make it a winner in your garage for years. It goes pretty well too – like fuck-off fast, the fuel-injected engine making oodles of power in progressive dollops of drive. On the track, the ace brakes and light weight meant it felt only slightly more oppressive than the 600cc bikes.”
“If you ask me, the 'Blade has been going downhill since 1999. Power has increased but so has the flighty nature. Today's model is a shadow of what it once was. More power and steeper head angles equalls instability. If the TL1000S was recalled for steering damper fitment, so should this bike. I can't believe it made it this far without a lawsuit.”
Aussie Paul 'Youngy' Young the pro racer said...
“I know 'Blades can be set up a lot better than this. The standard suspension settings aren't well balanced, OK at the rear but too soft at the front. The Blade didn't respond well to aggressive riding and braking deep into corners it was nearly impossible to hit the same line twice. The Blade's brakes are good when the front end is set right, but without damping control in the forks it doesn't matter how powerful your brakes are. Like virtually all the fuel injected bikes here, the Blade has a snatchy throttle response at closed and small openings. Once pointed out of a corner things improved, the rear end felt planted and power delivery, though not inspirational, was rapid and seamless. It looks like the dingo's danglies.”
•Honda CBR900RR FireBlade
•954cc liquid cooled inline four 16v
•Dry weight 168kg Insurance group 17
•Measured power 137bhp @ 11,000rpm
•Issue tested: October 2002
•Honda UK on 01753 590500